It’s been 240 years since Paul Revere rode through the countryside warning that the British were coming. If a modern day Revere thought there was still time to warn people these flying intruders were on their way, he would already be way too late.
Formally termed an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), but more commonly known as drones, these remotely controlled flying machines that use to be considered toys or a hobbyist’s pursuit, can be found popping up almost everywhere these days.
From documenting crime scenes to surveying beaches and someday soon dropping parcels or pizza off at your doorstep, drones are becoming more and more a part of our everyday life.
Aside from military development, drones have gone mainstream and are now priced within the reach of most anyone. While smaller craft can literally be picked up at the corner variety store, larger, more capable craft can easily be found anywhere from hobby shops to big box electronic outlets.
One of the more prominent uses for the burgeoning technology is aerial photography.
Red Bird Media is one of a growing list of companies embracing UAVs as part of their day-to-day business. Concentrating on the Woodstock-London-Windsor corridor, the company works with small- to medium-size businesses providing aerial imaging as well as web design and content.
Matt Dumas is a partner at Red Bird and flies its DJI Phantom II camera-equipped quadracopter. Giving the company the ability of providing a bird’s-eye view for its video productions, Dumas said they have used it to shoot a wide variety of subjects, from houses for real estate to restaurants and a golf course.
Not yet as commonplace as the cell phone, Dumas notes almost anywhere he flies it, there’s always someone who comes up to him or remains quietly standing off to the side watching.
“People are absolutely fascinated by it,” he said.
Always interested in flight and the ability to see things from above, to be able to use a technology like this “to see what the birds see” is almost like a dream come true.
But any good thing usually comes with a downside as well. More reports are popping up of people misusing drones, in particular pertaining to privacy rights.
“People have an expectation of their privacy, especially at home,” said Dumas. “That’s where you get a lot of bad press, when you hear bad stories of invading that privacy.”
Another area of concern is around safety. While Red Bird carries $1 million in liability insurance, a lot of operators don’t, which Dumas notes isn’t a problem until an accident happens like crashing through a window or someone gets hurt.
Currently, for most people operating a UAV in Canada, there’s no licence required and only a set of guidelines outlining their operation issued by Transport Canada. In certain cases however, for larger UAVs and those used for commercial applications, a Special Operations Certificate is required.
“Right now, a lot of people don’t know about the guidelines or regulations,” remarked Dumas, adding that while it’s easy for anyone to get a drone, not everyone fully thinks out the potential implications of flying one.
Looking forward into the future of drones, what they look like, how they operate and what they can do is probably only limited by imagination.
“We’re already testing the future,” said Dany Thivierge, owner of Canada Drones.
Building and flying them himself for about 10 years, Thivierge got into the business of selling drones and parts not long after crashing one he had spent six months building, 20 seconds into its first flight.
He said the next big step for drones to become more mainstream is improving their ability to fly smarter on their own without input from someone on the ground.
“Right now, these things are blind. They just fly with GPS coordinates, but that does not tell them there’s an obstacle,” said Thivierge.
The new technology currently being developed will tell them there’s something in the vicinity and how to navigate around it.
“What the analysts of the market are saying now is we are just like in 1984, just before the big revolution in PCs,” explained Thivierge. ”We’re almost there now, it’s almost making a big leap like when Apple started releasing their stuff.”